Jose Mourinho very nearly had Marouane Fellaini to blame for blowing a hole in a classic away-day masterplan but even a sending off as daft as anything the Belgian has done over the course of his career could not undermine a Manchester United draw in a derby that never quite caught light.
Only in the final five minutes of the game did United, sitting deep and soaking up the attacks from Pep Guardiola’s team finally put a foot wrong, or rather Fellaini jabbed his forehead in where it should never have gone. The United man fell for an old act of provocation from Sergio Aguero who leant his face close enough to invite the headbutt and duly pointed it out for referee Martin Atkinson’s attention.
In fact, the referee might have been about to send Fellaini off anyway for a second bookable tackle on Aguero just 19 seconds after the midfielder had commited the first which at the very least shows that he does not have much of a memory. In the end United’s ten men clung on for the draw which they seemed to have come to secure from the very start and Mourinho wil be without Fellaini, dismissed for a straight red, for three games.
As for City, they had 69 per cent of the possession but had only themselves to blame for the lack of cutting edge. Aguero himself failed to hit the target when given the chance and missed one late on when United truly were hanging on. The substitute Gabriel Jesus thought he has the winner but was rightly flagged offside with minutes remaining.
There was a clear strategy from Martin Atkinson in the first half at least to let as much as he could go unpunished, which meant that both teams immediately took it right to the limit of what the referee deemed permissible and there were moments when tempers rose.
Both sides were at fault, with Fernandinho lucky not to be booked before the break for taking out Henrikh Mkhitaryan early on and then clattering Ander Herrera when the little midfielder was already being bullied by Yaya Toure. The quality was not always high but it was intense and fraught and by the time they went in for the break both sides had missed good chances to score.
The first fell to Sergio Aguero, a busy man in the first half whose speed and quick feet were a persistent problem for United, although his shooting was well off beam. He struck David De Gea’s post from a right sided cross from Kevin De Bruyne on nine minutes that only needed guiding on target to give City the lead.
For United it was Herrera in the last regulation minute of the first half who emerged unmarked from a pack awaiting Marcus Rashford’s free-kick from the left and headed the ball wide when there was no-one near him. United had withstood some heavy pressure from the off although they always had a way out with Rashford’s running.
The teenager burned past Nicolas Otamendi on a couple of occasions who recovered well to tackle the second time but up against the striker, the Argentinian generally looked like a man trying to run up the down escalator. One piece of skill where Rashford lifted the ball over Otamendi with the outside of his right heel was a standout moment, but there were no clear chances for the striker before the break.
The other fell to Mkhitaryan who was gifted the ball in the area by Claudio Bravo’s weak flap at an Anthony Martial cross that just created more problems than it solved. As for City’s grievances, they will look back on a foul by Matteo Darmian when Raheem Sterling went down the right as the moment they suffered from Atkinson’s leniency.
Sitting back against such a dangerous team, United took a lot of risks with Herrera, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini generally doing a good job of dealing with the emergencies around the United box. Aguero was always a danger in those positions, as well as Toure running from deep but City, without David Silva, could not find the kind of clinical finish required.
United in 2017
24 - Manchester United have equalled their record for the longest unbeaten run within a single top-flight season (24 games). Grind. pic.twitter.com/xcYhBHGNsM
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 27, 2017
They've also only conceded five Premier League goals in 2017...
Time on ball (at full time)
Average touch positions (full time)
It's a stalemate! Congratulations to all the fans who paid several hundreds of pounds to watch that one.
90 mins +6
That is awfully close to being another Aguero moment. The ball is played from wide left to Aguero in the box. He's at the back post and needs to cushion the shot like Sergi Roberto's winner in that Barcelona vs PSG game but he slams it way over the bar. And wide.
90 mins +4
Young is coming on for Rashford (and also to waste time). He walks off veeeeeeeerrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyy slowly from the opposite side of the pitch.
Man City have been passing the ball from side to side for an entire minute.
90 mins +2
Six minutes of added time to come! AND JESUS HAS SCORED! GOOOAAAAAALLLL but it's offside!
He's a good few yards offside as well actually - great decision from the linesman.
It's all kicking off now. Jesus is booked for... something off the ball. He's not impressed with the decision either. Kolarov is actually unlucky not to get a penalty for a clear block inside the box... Rashford goes down as Jesus closes him.. and that's why Jesus is angry. He thinks Rashford is pretending. He probably is actually.
United are playing 4-5-0 now, with no out ball to help relieve the constant City pressure. Navas floats a cross in - headed away. Aguero over hits a pass and chases it out of play himself.
In a game where the referee was trying not to even book anyone Fellaini has gone some to get a yellow and a straight red within a minute..
— Jason Burt (@JBurtTelegraph) April 27, 2017
Sterling is off for Gabriel Jesus, Mkhitaryan is off for Fosu-Mensah.
Fellaini red card
What has happened here?! His teammates are surrounding him and forcing him off the pitch while the red mist clouds his vision. He trips Aguero and then Aguero squares up to him, Fellaini lowers his forehead onto Aguero's forehead and Aguero falls to the floor.
Straight red. Fosu-Mensah to come on.
Red card! Marouane Fellaini sent off for Man Utd
Marouane Fellaini is dismissed by referee Martin Atkinson.
IT'S COME TO LIFE! FELLAINI HAS BEEN SENT OFF!
Let's hope Bravo's injury isn't serious. But let's also hope it wasn't a calf strain.
Meanwhile, back in the game, NOTHING IS HAPPENING. It's all midfield this, midfield that, no goals... fouls everywhere.
And in addition to Bravo going off with what seems like a calf strain, Martial is off for Lingard and Sane has gone off for Navas. Oh and Caballero is on in goal.
And Bravo is going to have come off. He's injured his calf by jumping to catch that cross. Unbelievable. And they're putting him on a stretcher! With a calf strain.
Gary Neville is appalled. "Oh come on", he says. I'm inclined to agree.
Alternatively, Bravo might just be really, really, really bored.
Time on ball (60 - 75 min)
Martial runs in behind, gets the long ball controlled and sets up Herrera on the edge of the box. He feints to go right and goes left, then hits a cross off Zabaleta and wants a penalty. Doesn't get it.
AND BRAVO CATCHES THE CORNER! Well done, Claudio.
This is more or a less an animated version of this match and if Man Utd score at the end, even more accurate.
Another fairly easy save for De Gea:
City still looking for the opener, United seem to be waiting for them to tire.
There's a coming together in the box as Otamendi is pushed by Fellaini. The referee sorts it out and when the corner is taken, he's trying to get away from his man... and has a header in the six yard box! But puts it over!!!
Although another corner says that he didn't get the last touch so maybe not quite such a bad miss.
Good ball from Sterling. He has it wide right, spots Sane's run at the back post as Toure stays down injured and Aguero drops outside the box but Sane can't get there in time.
Kolarov tries a couple of crosses from wide left that are blocked as United defend with everyone behind the ball.
De Bruyne is making things happen for City and United's number 10, Mkhitaryan will probably be taken off at some point soon. He keeps giving the ball away on the rare few seconds he has possession of it.
One-way traffic at Etihad Stadium
It's been all Man City, with the hosts racking up 15 shots so far - Man Utd have managed just three in reply.
Time on ball (45 - 60 min)
Oocha! De Bruyne dribbles from outside to inside and rattles a low shot at goal which De Gea has to put behind.
And then De Bruyne puts his corner straight out for a goal kick.
And then Aguero shoots way over the bar from 20 yards as the ball sits up perfectly for him. That's his eighth shot tonight - more than any player has taken against Man Utd in a game this season - as compared to the three shots that United have had.
Sane goes searching for a penalty but the referee bends his knees and does universal sign language (waving his arms like a sideways bird) to indicate that it is not a penalty.
United are being hammered here - it's all City and United just can't get out of their own half because of the high City press and their own deep defensive line.
Zabaleta is forward and moves into a central attacking position as Sterling stretches play out on the right. Sterling wins a free-kick as Martial slips and De Bruyne comes across to take this one.
United have still only had two shots on goal all match...
Aguero goes on a charging run through the middle of the pitch, gets to the box, passes back to De Bruyne who tricks his way past a tackle and delivers to the back post... but Sane isn't here! He's moaning about something further back the pitch and Fernandinho tries to get a shot away but De Gea saves.
Aguero is causing problems tonight. He manages to squeeze another shot away but has the power taken out of it by United defending.
City start on the front foot, hurling a long ball forward from left back to right wing but Sterling can't win his header. De Bruyne goes for a header and wins a throw in, United clear.
And the tempo has already calmed down after a manic minute and a half. But Sterling is on the run! He gets the ball in the centre-circle, powers forward, has United scared... and then hits a really tame left footed shot at goal. His finishing is still woeful most of the time.
We're back. No obvious changes from either manager.
Chris Smalling is devo'd
— Chris Smalling (@ChrisSmalling) April 27, 2017
This tweet is doing the rounds. I really want to know if Smalling wrote this himself.
Time on ball (first half)
Average touch positions (half time)
Thoroughly entertaining stuff here. Aguero is knocking at the door, Bravo has already had his "everyone gets one" moment and Herrera should have made it 1-0.
Rashford has the chance to hit a free-kick into the area from wide left.
AND HERRERA MUST SCORE! Oh my word. What a ball from Rashford! This cross has pace, bend, whip and flies towards the corner of the six yard box. Herrera breaks away from the defenders and has a free header but the path of the ball is just slightly ahead of him and he heads wide.
Otamendi finally wins a tackle against one of the tricky Man Utd forwards as Fellaini takes advantage of Sane pulling out of a 50/50 to hit a long ball up to Rashford. He's very, very fast and takes on Otamendi near the box but loses out.
Blind plays the ball back to De Gea while under pressure and the goalie takes a touch and moves it on calmly while being chased down. Bravo is at the other end watching re-runs of Ren and Stimpy in his head. I'm not sure why that cartoon came to mind and by the way, I've defended Bravo for a lot of this season. Playing out from the back is the way to go but Bravo is such a liability when it comes to actually saving things. He can be better next season - a few goalkeepers have struggled in their first seasons - but he's an accident waiting to happen while his confidence is this low.
And yes I see the irony in being overly harsh on him here and how that doesn't help.
City have a corner, Toure goes flying to the ground and want a penalty. There is no way Herrera is stronger than Toure... and the replay shows that Toure has just flung himself to the floor. It's quite funny.
Man Utd looking unadventurous so far
Man Utd are yet to pose a significant threat in the final third.
Aguero is right in this game now. He's staying in central areas, turning defenders inside out and has just had another effort fly over the bar. It's a great bit of skill to make the defender commit and slide in but the finish is hit too hard in an effort to beat De Gea.
Aguero lines one up from 30 yards... and has his shot saved! It's a great hit, bending towards the top corner but De Gea dives and is big enough to catch the ball in flight. I can only assume that Bravo would have tried a bicycle kick shot in the same situation.
Great ball across the box by Kolarov! He whips it from wide left towards Aguero at the back post but he can't quite adjust his balance to get on the end of it. Goal kick.
Time on ball (15 - 30 min)
De Bruyne nearly plays Sane in with a brilliant backheel flick but Valencia manages to get in the way and stop the danger. Would've been lovely that.
More alternative goalkeeping from Claudio Bravo a moment ago
— James Ducker (@TelegraphDucker) April 27, 2017
I really hope this is a new player role on Football Manager 18. Alternative goalkeeper.
Claudio Bravo. What even are you? What is this?! He's awful. So unreliable - the defenders must be terrified whenever a cross goes near his goal.
Martial has just run down the left wing, chipped a floated cross into the box where NOBODY in a Man Utd shirt is there to attack the ball and Bravo dives and flaps at the ball, PASSING IT to Rashford in the middle of the box. Defenders close him down quickly and block the shot but jesus wept, what on earth is he thinking? Either catch it or leave it!
Man Utd respond
The visitors have their first shot of the game, in reply to two so far from Man City.
De Bruyne has a shot from long range but it is absolutely no danger to De Gea's goal.
And then Sane goes on a dribble into the box but Bailly defends well and cuts it out.
Man City enjoying plenty of touches of the ball so far.
Man City have had 201 touches of the ball compared to 111 by Man Utd.
Rashford speeds away (maybe he's not injured) and beats Otamendi to a ball moving towards the corner flag, takes him on, then wins a corner.
SPIDER CAM! It's very disorientating. And then it cuts to a shot from pitch level, which is even more confusing. I didn't know Orson Welles was available to direct football matches.
De Bruyne hits a free-kick from wide right which curls around the first few United defenders but nobody is attacking the ball at the back post! Gary Neville says "I can't believe what I've just seen" as that chance goes completely begging - such a waste.
Rashford is injured, hobbling around a little bit. I'm not sure if the kick from Otamendi a few minutes ago has something to do with it.
Time on ball (0 - 15 min)
Neither Man City or Man Utd are testing the goalkeepers so far
Not much to do for either keeper at Etihad Stadium - Man City and Man Utd keeping each other at bay.
On one hand it's good that the referee is making sure Mourinho's dark arts (fouling etc) can't disrupt the flow of the game, but on the other it means that Otamendi has avoided a yellow card he should have been given and it means players have a little more license to stick the boot in. Not that they would, of course.
City don't really seem committed to the high press and win the ball back in their own half as United easily bypass Sterling, Aguero and co to pass forward.
This game is being played in midfield.
Fernandinho catches Mkhitaryan as the Armenian sends him completely off balance with a sharp turn but the referee keeps cards in his pocket for now.
Kompany appears to trip Martial on the right as he goes on another little run but this time no foul is awarded. Man Utd are defending really deep... and Rashford has gone down off the ball in pain. Otamendi has been up to something here. Replays show that Otamendi near rugby tackles Rashford and stops him sprinting in behind as United win the ball back by their own box.
Great run by Martial as he dances around Zabaleta on the left and nearly plays Rashford clean through. Rashford is just offside though.
AND AGUUEEERRRROOOOOOOO hits the sidenetting. He should score. Zabaleta works hard to win the ball wide right for De Bruyne, who hits a great low cross to the six yard box.
Aguero attacks at the near post but misses his chance. Guardiola can't believe it!
Zabaleta bursts forward down the right as Sterling tucks inside but he's too quick for Sterling to adjust his feet and get a through-ball away. Aguero has just popped up on the right wing, going against exactly what he was saying in the pre-match interview with Henry.
The first attack of the game and Zabaleta has to put the ball behind for a corner. That cross is then headed behind for another corner and Daley Blind takes the second one, swinging the ball in from the right. He hasn't taken them much this season - that may well be another little strategy by Mourinho.
Sky Sports decided to use one of those spider cam things for the second corner and it was weird.
Aaaand there is a tactical surprise! Mkhitaryan has started through the middle, Rashford wide, Fellaini in the number 10 role and Martial wide left.
Here we go! United get the game started.
Here come the teams
Just borrowed Pep's overcoat & found his tactics ... he's playing two wide lapels and a couple of deep-lying pockets pic.twitter.com/3TK8QB7wtR
— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) April 27, 2017
Guardiola hates interviews
"Yeh it's a big game, happy to live it, to enjoy it.
"It's a game against a tough team, they win a lot of duels, so fast in front, they're going to attack with runs in behind. A tough team without experience.
"To be in the right place without the ball.
"No. (David Silva wasn't close to being fit)
"We have five more games so will be tough every game.
"I think it will be important, I'm not too much on the street to see the people but I know what it means."
Aguero adapting to number nine
This is cool. Thierry Henry is having a chat with Sergio Aguero and talking about what his role is at Man City this season:
"Not many people know but I used to be a second striker (at Atletico Madrid), it is only the last two and a half years I have been a number nine. Pellegrini made me do it, Pep asks me to do the same.
"Sometimes I drift out wide because I am so immersed in the game and Pep tells me what if someone wants to cross the ball into the middle - who is there? No-one!"
Pep's first season without a trophy
This is the first season in his nine year coaching career that Pep Guardiola hasn't won a trophy. Worse than that would be if City failed to qualify for the Champions League. This is clearly a team and club in transition but defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup showed just how big a job Guardiola has - they have great players but not a great team. That is what he must build.
Jose Mourinho expects City to dominate possession
"My thinking is Paul cannot play because he's injured and that's an obvious change, Mkhitaryan, Carrick, Rashford and Valencia didn't play the last game and we are rotating players, giving rest to some players.
"And also strategy. [Martial] had a good performance, he's not playing many matches during the season, not 90 minutes so he's in a good condition and of course we want Martial and Rashford fresh in this match to create solutions.
"I expect them to have because that's the way they normally play. We want the ball we also normally have the ball but honestly I think they will have more of the ball because that is how they play.
"If we think too much about Europa League we will lose qualities for these games. It is our main target.
"In this moment it is too win but if City is much better than us and we manage a point, I'll be happy."
Man Utd: 4-3-3
De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian, Herrera, Carrick, Fellani, Mkhitaryan, Rashford, Martial
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 27, 2017
Man City: Anyone's guess but probably 4-2-3-1
Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero
— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 27, 2017
What is it?
It's the rearranged Premier League fixture between Manchester City and Manchester United.
When is it?
Tonight. Yes, Thursday night of course.
Where is it?
At the home of the blue half of the city, so the Etihad Stadium.
What time it kick-off?
It's at 8pm.
What TV channel is it on?
Sky Sports 1 will have live coverage of the match with build up starting from 7pm.
What is the team news?
Manchester City playmaker David Silva is doubtful after suffering a hamstring injury in the FA Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal.
Striker Sergio Aguero seems to have a better chance of featuring after a knock in the same game while fellow forward Gabriel Jesus could return after more than two months out with a broken bone in his foot.
Defenders John Stones and Bacary Sagna are hoping to overcome muscle injuries but Ilkay Gundogan (knee) is a long-term absentee.
Provisional squad: Bravo, Caballero, Zabaleta, Kompany, Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho, Toure, Delph, De Bruyne, Sterling, Sane, Nolito, Navas, Aguero, Jesus, Iheanacho.
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba will miss the derby against City at the Etihad Stadium after sustaining a muscular injury in Sunday's win at Burnley.
Chris Smalling (knee) and Phil Jones (foot) are still not fit while Juan Mata (groin), Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo (both knee) have longer-term problems.
Full-back Antonio Valencia returns after missing the last two matches.
Provisional squad: De Gea, Romero, Pereira, Valencia, Blind, Darmian, Shaw, Tuanzebe, Fosu-Mensah, Bailly, Mkhitaryan, Carrick, Herrera, Young, Lingard, Fellaini, Martial, Rooney, Rashford.
What are they saying?
Jose Mourinho on a win moving United above City and into the top four:
"It means nothing. If we finish fifth and they finish sixth and we are above them it means nothing.
"If they finish third and we finish fourth they are above us, but it means a lot.
"This is not about Pep (Guardiola), this is not about City, it is about fighting for objectives.
"We want to play Champions League football and we still have two doors open."
Guardiola on his respect for United:
"They are good, good rivals, good quality, in good form. They've had big series without defeat in the Premier League. They have a lot of quality, history. We're looking forward to the game."
What are the latest odds?
City to win 5/6
Man Utd to win 16/5
What's our prediction?
It's hard to look past a draw so we're going for 1-1.